God has an agenda and it's NOT white supremacy
A sermon written the day after the Buffalo mass shooting
I come to you today with a heavy heart.
If you, like me, have been paying attention to the news, you have––depending on your network–– heard about the domestic terrorist shooting in Buffalo, New York, in which a white 18 year old traveled in his parent’s car to a predominantly Black neighborhood and fired 50 rounds into a grocery store, killing 10, nearly all of them Black.
I say, “depending on your network,” because this news will not be covered the same way across all news outlets. It never is.
You may not ever hear the phrase, “domestic terrorist shooting,” because the shooter was a white man, and some groups reserve the word “terrorist” for brown people. You may instead hear, “lone wolf” or “troubled teen,” or you may see an exposé about how he was misunderstood, or hear neighbors say, “we don’t understand how he could do this because he comes from such a good family.”
But we can’t deny the fact that this 18 year old left a manifesto of sorts that spells out a conspiratorial vision of a world that is seeking to eradicate white people, which for him requires immediate, violent action to remedy. He may have learned about that conspiracy theory from the internet, or from a fellow Episcopalian, Tucker Carlson on Fox News, or from some other outlet. Time will tell where he picked up this Great Replacement Theory, as it is known, or White Replacement Theory, in essence.
If any of you have ever heard or proclaimed that X ethnic group is “taking over,” “taking our jobs,” or “changing the neighborhood,” or “ruining the country,” then you know what the theory sounds like. You may believe it.
There is nothing harmless about white supremacist theories of white victimhood. What happened in Buffalo was one logical manifestation [i.e. a logical conclusion, not rationally justifiable choice] of the rhetoric we’ve been living through in this country and in corners––entire branches––of the Christian church.
I want to say a few things about God. That’s what sermons are supposed to do. So let me start by saying this:
God has an agenda.
And that agenda is liberation.
Liberation, which I use interchangeably with “salvation,” is diametrically opposed to the logic of white supremacy. Liberation is God’s gig, and it always has been.
During this season of Easter, we don’t get readings from the Hebrew Scripture, but instead, hear a lot from the Acts of the Apostles. I’d like to suggest to you that the stories in Acts, like the one we heard today about Peter and God’s Gentile Pentecost moment, serve a similar function as the stories of Moses and the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt; the stories of God’s advocacy for freedom, God’s acts of liberation which free people to live full, whole, love-filled lives.
The God who freed the slaves is the same God who resurrected Jesus, and the same God whose Spirit descended onto the Apostles, and then the Gentiles, breaking a rule, in Peter’s mind, and in the minds of his companions, about who gets access to the fullness of God’s grace.
God transgressed the boundaries that human beings had established in order to demonstrate God’s character as the one who liberates.
This God is a God who is invested in freedom and the full humanity of all those who God created. And God created all.
What God has made clean, you must not call profane, Peter heard in his vision. And this wasn’t just about what food is Kosher and what food is to be rejected. This is about the goodness of God’s creation; the worthiness of those outside of Peter’s limited imagination, his sense of tribe, and creed, and practice. God’s vision of who is worthy to live full, whole, love-filled lives, covered by the grace of God is bigger than what Peter imagined.
That doesn’t mean that Peter is bad, that just means that he’s human. It’s a reminder that God’s imagination is always greater and more expansive than our own.
And who am I that I could hinder God, Peter says.
He witnesses God being God, doing what God does, which is to liberate, save, make free all of God’s creation, and Peter, modeling for us today the perfect, humble, right relationship to God says, “Who am I that I could hinder God?
To take an assault rifle into a grocery store and systematically kill the people you have determined are not worthy to be alive is, in affect, an act that seeks to hinder God.
Because God’s will as seen in scripture––from Genesis to Revelation, from God calling what God created, “good” to God promising us that mourning and crying and pain will be no more–– God’s will is that God’s creation flourishes. Any action, any ideology that works toward a different end is an attempt to hinder God.
And who are you and I that we could hinder God?
In the wake of every new crisis is a moment in which well-meaning people, often white people, say, what can I do? What am I to do now?
I’m going to suggest that there are a few things you can do.
1. Commit yourself to education and action.
If you are a white person, then know that that 18 year old killed those Black people for you. White supremacists are working on your behalf, and unless you challenge that with your words and your actions, then in your passivity you become complicit in their efforts.
Deacon Liz, myself, and a few parishioners were just earlier this week discussing what the logical followup should be to the Sacred Ground education series done at Grace a little while back.
I do not think we are done with the challenging conversations about whiteness, white supremacy, and the intersection of white nationalism and the Christian Church.
If you would like to help make those conversations happen, let us know.
2. Cultivate curiosity about God as liberator.
The Black Church has understood God in this way from its inception. This is how the spiritual, Mary Don’t You Weep, can so seamlessly weave together together a gospel story with a story of the slaves being freed.
Oh Mary don’t you weep..
Tell Martha not to moan
‘cause Pharaoh’s army
is going to drown in the Red Sea
So Mary don’t you weep
Tell Martha to moan….
The historically white churches have been largely focussed on a different of vision of God and a vision of salvation that can somehow exist without liberation. But don’t forget that Jesus’ first message in his ministry was a proclamation of freedom to the imprisoned and a full, whole, love-filled life to the poor, to those who had been denied such a life.
3. Do what Jesus says.
What should you do in the face of crisis… and there is always a crisis. There will be another instance of domestic terrorist violence at the hands of young white man––it is a pandemic of violence, supported by news networks and political parties. It’s not just going to go away if we ignore it.
What should you do? Be known for the way that you love.
That is the ethic that Jesus call us into: love.
Love so persistently that it’s the only thing people remember about you. Love the way that God loves, which is a kind of love that breaks down barriers, a kind of love that is expansive and inclusive, and bigger than what we can imagine.
God has an agenda.
And that agenda is liberation.
We are not called to liberate. We are called to participate in God’s liberation, which is an ever-expanding imaginative vision of creation living full, whole, love-filled lives. Our part is to love. Start there.
Do not be complicit in the logic of white supremacy. Be complicit in God’s agenda of liberation.
In the name of God’s Son, our Brother, and Liberator of all, Jesus.